How to tell if baby is cluster feeding
Cluster feeding | Pregnancy Birth and BabyCluster feeding | Pregnancy Birth and Baby beginning of content
- Cluster feeding is when your baby wants lots of short feeds over a few hours.
- Cluster feeding is very common, especially in the late afternoon or early evening.
- No one really knows why some babies cluster feed, but it may be a way for your body to boost your milk supply.
- If your baby cluster feeds, this does not mean that you don't have enough milk.
- Cluster feeding can be exhausting; it's a good idea to think of strategies to help you cope when your baby feeds frequently.
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is a time when your baby wants lots of short feeds over a few hours. It's normal and often happens in the early days of breastfeeding.
Cluster feeding is a normal behaviour for your baby. It's more common in the late afternoon or early evening, but it can happen anytime of the day.
It seems that some babies prefer to fill up on milk for a few hours then often have a longer sleep.
Why do some babies cluster feed?
There is no particular reason why some babies cluster feed. Some people believe it might boost your milk supply. If your baby wants more milk, then feeding more often will trigger your body to make it.
Is my baby cluster feeding?
If your baby is having a lot of short feeds close together over a few hours, you are cluster feeding.
If you are cluster feeding, you might also find that your baby:
- has short rests or sleeps between these feeds
- feeds for a few minutes then pulls off and on the breast
- cries and is fussy during this time
Common worries about cluster feeding
Cluster feeding can make you physically and emotionally drained. Many parents feel exhausted and frustrated. Some mothers say they feel like a failure, or that they lose confidence about being able to breastfeed.
You might worry that you don't have enough milk because your baby takes a long time to settle. You might also think your breasts feel empty.
But there is always milk in your breasts. They are never completely empty.
What can I do to make cluster feeding easier?
The first thing to remember is that this is normal. Cluster feeding doesn't mean that you don't have enough milk.
To make cluster feeding easier you can:
- relax and follow your baby's lead
- feed to their need
- look forward to a sleepy, settled baby after feeding
- try to rest in the early part of the day to prepare
- drink lots of water
- make sure you eat well — don't miss meals
- get as much family and partner support as you can
Things to look out for
Cluster feeding is a normal part of a baby's feeding routine. Talk to your nurse, midwife or doctor if your baby:
- is not gaining weight
- is not producing wet and dirty nappies
- is not settling after they have finished feeding
Where can I go for help and advice about breastfeeding?
For advice and support contact:
- a lactation consultant
- your family health nurse
- Pregnancy Birth Baby on 1800 882 436
- the Australian Breastfeeding Association Helpline on 1800 686 268
Speak to a maternal child health nurse. Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. This is a free service, and is available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
Sources:Australian Breastfeeding Association (Cluster feeding and fussy babies), Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) (Infant and toddler nutrition), Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) (Breastfeeding)
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Last reviewed: May 2022
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Cluster feeding is when a baby suddenly starts eating much more frequently — in clusters — for a period of time. It usually lasts a couple of hours at a time and differs from your baby’s usual eating behavior.
Cluster feeding is normal baby behavior, seen primarily in breastfeeding newborns in the first few weeks. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with your baby or your milk supply.
Read on to learn more about cluster feeding and how to manage it.
Cluster feeding can be hard to identify because newborns rarely have a predictable eating or sleeping schedule.
Your baby may be cluster feeding if:
- they’re a few days or weeks old
- they’re showing their usual hunger signs or won’t stop crying until they’re fed
- they want to eat constantly or they eat very frequently for short sessions each time
- nothing else seems wrong and they’re content when eating
- they still have regular wet and dirty diapers
Cluster feeding is more common in the evenings. With an older infant, though, there may be several days in a row when they eat a lot more than usual throughout the entire day. This may be due to growth spurts or teething.
What’s a normal baby feeding schedule?
Every baby is different, but a typical feeding session for a baby that isn’t cluster feeding can range from 10 to 30 minutes. Experts advise to feed your newborn baby an average of at least 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. Your baby may show hunger signs and need to eat more frequently.
Frequent feeding may help:
- prevent jaundice
- promote healthy weight gain in babies
- mothers develop a milk supply
Cluster feeding vs. colic
If your baby is fussier than usual, you might wonder if they have colic. Colic is similar to cluster feeding in that it can come on suddenly and often occurs in the evening.
A baby with colic usually can’t be soothed with nursing or formula. However, a cluster feeding baby will be soothed during nursing sessions.
Colic is defined as at least three hours of crying for at least three days a week, at least three weeks in a row. It affects 10 to 40 percent of all babies worldwide. There’s no difference in risk between male or female babies, nor between breastfed or formula-fed babies.
Colic symptoms include:
- crying that sounds more like screaming
- face and body that appears tense or contorted
- crying at a predictable time each day, often in the evenings
- crying that peaks at six weeks and usually passes by 3 months old
Researchers don’t fully understand why babies cluster feed, but there are many unproven theories. Cluster feeding probably meets a combination of needs that your baby has at this developmental stage.
Heather Turgeon, MFT, a psychotherapist and author of The Happy Sleeper, says, “cluster feeding is likely a way for babies, who have maturing nervous systems, to regulate. It could also be a way to store up on food for the night.
“What we do know about breastfeeding is that it’s a supply and demand system. When little babies want to feed, that’s a good sign that we should let them, because trying to schedule or space feedings out doesn’t give that supply and demand system the right feedback.
“So while we can have theories about why they cluster feed, what matters is that we let them do it — that’s the way to establish and maintain mom’s milk supply.”
Cluster feeding can be exhausting and you may hear people stressing the importance of a schedule for baby, but cluster feeding is a normal part of the development of many babies.
Is cluster feeding a sign of low milk supply?
More frequent eating shouldn’t cause worry about your milk supply. A doctor can easily tell you if your baby is getting enough milk based on their weight gain.
Tracking a young baby’s wet diapers can also help you tell if they’re getting enough milk. Below are the average number of wet diapers per day, based on baby’s age:
|Age||Average wet diapers per day|
|Newborn||1 to 2|
|4 to 5 days old||6 to 8|
|1 to 2 months||4 to 6|
If you’re ever concerned about your baby’s eating, ask your pediatrician and meet with a lactation consultant. Babies who struggle to gain weight or seem frustrated while eating may not be getting enough milk.
Other reasons for nighttime fussiness
Some babies just tend to get fussier in the evenings. Reasons may include:
- being overtired or overstimulated
- missing parents who’ve been at work or away all day
- needing to be burped if they’ve been eating a lot
Cluster feeding has both positive and negative effects.
- Baby may sleep longer after cluster feeding.
- It may help to increase your milk supply.
- It may help babies emotionally and neurologically regulate.
- It can increase your skin-to-skin time with baby, which has benefits for both mom and baby.
- It can increase nipple soreness.
- It’s unpredictable.
- It can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally.
- It often takes time away from other family or household needs in the evening.
While cluster feeding is a normal, brief behavior, it can still be taxing on the whole family. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself, your family, and your baby during cluster feedings:
- Keep a large bottle of water and snacks near your nursing area to stay hydrated and nourished during cluster feeds.
- Set up a nursing area in front of the TV so you can watch something during cluster feedings. Or use the time to listen to audiobooks or podcasts. Keep chargers within reach.
- Change breastfeeding positions often so you don’t get sore.
- Use the downtime to call a friend. Since you’ll want to keep your hands free to hold and aid your baby, consider using earbuds.
- Sit on the couch or floor while you feed baby so you can read or play with older kids at the same time.
- Have a basket of special toys for older siblings that they only play with when the baby is nursing.
- Practice nursing your baby while they’re in a baby carrier so you can potentially walk around while they feed.
- Plan ahead. If baby usually starts cluster feeding around 7 p.m., plan to use the restroom, eat, and get comfortable before then.
- Hand off the baby to your partner or a close friend whenever you can to get a short break. This also allows for other people to have time with them.
- Talk with your partner about expectations and plan for how you’ll handle evening chores if the baby starts to cluster feed.
- Let friends help cook or do housework, or, if possible, consider hiring a housekeeper for the first few weeks postpartum.
Cluster feeding isn’t a sign that you need to supplement with formula. If you’re nursing and need a break, you or someone else can offer a bottle of breastmilk.
You’ll still need to pump at this time in order to keep up your milk supply at pace with the baby’s eating, however.
There are many tricks other than feeding you can try to soothe a fussy baby. Some babies may be soothed by the same method every time. For other babies, what worked yesterday, or even earlier in the same day, may no longer work. Feel free to experiment with these or other ideas:
- Wrap baby in a swaddle to help recreate the experiences from the womb.
- Offer a pacifier.
- Hold baby as you slowly walk or rock.
- Dim the lights and reduce other stimuli, such as loud noises.
- Use white noise, either from a white noise machine or cell phone app, or from a fan, gently running water, or even a vacuum. You can also create your own white noise by holding your baby upright on your chest and humming in low tones.
- Hold them in different positions. They may be fussy because they’re uncomfortable or want a change of scenery.
- Sing peaceful songs, recite poems, or speak to baby in a soft, gentle voice.
It’s important to go to your baby’s recommended checkups or wellness visits so the doctor can keep track of growth and development. These visits are more frequent when your baby is first born, when tracking weight gain is vital.
Your doctor will tell you if they suspect your baby isn’t getting enough milk or if they aren’t gaining enough weight. More frequent feedings, fussiness, or breasts not feeling full don’t necessarily mean your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
Always call your pediatrician if your baby seems very sick, lethargic, or has trouble breathing.
Cluster feeding is normal baby behavior and can happen any time, though it’s most common with newborns and in the evenings. Researchers don’t totally understand why it happens, but it’s not a sign that there’s anything wrong.
You may need to reset your expectations for these periods but cluster feeding isn’t permanent and will pass eventually.
How to determine if the baby has enough milk?
A child who is breastfed should be applied to the breast at his request during the day, and at least 3 times at night, on average 10-12 times a day. Feeding on demand - this means that at the first sign of restlessness of the baby, it must be applied to the chest. In order for the child to be satiated, it must be correctly attached to the breast, it must suck rhythmically for about 5-20 minutes, swallowing movements should be heard during sucking (swallowing milk), a well-fed child can fall asleep under the breast, after feeding the breast should become soft. Signs of a hungry baby: opens her mouth wide, turns her head in different directions (looking for a nipple), whimpers, sucks her fist.
A child suckles at the breast not only to quench thirst or hunger, but also to calm down, comfort, it is easier to fall asleep, recover, and get gassies out. Newborns are not able to regulate their bowels, therefore, in order to push out gassies, they need a new portion of milk. Therefore, the younger the children, the more often they need to be applied to the chest. If the child is not capricious, gains weight well, neuropsychic development corresponds to age, this indicates that the body develops normally, it has enough food and enough milk, but this only applies to children under 6 months old. A child who is breastfed (up to 6 months) must gain weight at least 500 g per month, the upper limit of the increase for each child is individual. But if the process of eruption of milk teeth began earlier, then weight gain is possible and less than 500 g.
What should I do to get enough milk?
- Milk production occurs under the influence of two hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, which are produced in response to the suckling of the breast of a woman who has given birth. Therefore, in order to stimulate the production of milk, frequent stimulation of these two hormones is necessary, this implies frequent attachment of the baby to the breast (necessarily night attachments), proper breastfeeding.
- The exclusion of stress, tension, increased mental and physical tension, fatigue, these factors contribute to a decrease in the production of oxytocin and prolactin, and if they are not enough, the muscle cells will not be able to form and secrete milk, as a result of which the child will not be able to get the amount of milk he needs. Thus, all nursing mothers need: calmness, rest, calm environment, they should try to get a good night's sleep (daytime sleep is required, next to the child).
- Constant contact with the child (affects the production of hormones).
- A warm shower promotes better milk flow.
- Special lactogenic (better milk excretion) teas (sold in pharmacies) for nursing mothers.
- Lactic preparations, for example: Apilak.
- Walnut with honey also has a lactogenic effect, use honey with caution for mothers with children suffering from allergies.
- A nursing mother must follow a diet: eat on time, high-calorie food and rich in vitamins (it doesn’t matter if your weight changes or not), drink more fluids, forget about any diets.
- Under no circumstances should you smoke or drink alcohol.
- In case of insufficient milk production, it is urgent to seek help from a lactation consultant.
School of breastfeeding - BU "Presidential Perinatal Center" of the Ministry of Health of Chuvashia
Breast milk is a unique product for your baby that cannot be fully replaced by any artificial formula. However, if you are facing difficulties on the path of breastfeeding, we will be happy to help you overcome all obstacles! Lactation consultants are ready to answer your questions about how often you need to feed your baby, whether it is possible to breastfeed a baby if the mother is sick, what can a nursing mother eat, how and at what age it is necessary to introduce complementary foods to a child.
On the basis of the children's departments of the Presidential Perinatal Center of the Ministry of Health of Chuvashia, a "Breastfeeding School" has been organized and operates for women who are in a child care hospital.
The main goals and objectives of the “Breastfeeding School” are:
- support and promotion of breastfeeding at all levels;
- training of mothers in the practical skills of caring for a newborn child.
Classes are held in the form of a group or individual conversation, using methodological literature, video materials, etc.
Neonatologists, specialist doctors (ophthalmologist, neuropathologist) and nurses are involved in the work of the “Breastfeeding School”.
We prefer individual conversations with mothers to create a better contact.
The following topics are covered in conversations:
- physiology and pathology of newborns;
- characteristics of children born prematurely, care for them;
- principles of feeding, features of hardening;
- stages of child development in the first year of life;
- prevention of rickets, anemia, respiratory diseases, pustular infections, diseases of the navel;
- features of monitoring newborns in the pediatric area.
Mothers are trained:
- swaddling techniques, baby care;
- the basics of bathing children;
- correct feeding;
- the basics of massage and gymnastics.
Lecture plan and practical classes in the School of Breastfeeding*
Benefits of breastfeeding. Technique of applying to the chest. Free breastfeeding
Head of department, doctors
Breast and care. Prevention and treatment of breast diseases. Prevention of hypogalactia. Breast milk expression technique
Head of department, doctors
Nursing mother's nutrition.